Whether you’re a college student with limited funds or a parent hoping to plan an affordable family vacation, you can both save money and have some fun. Before you book, check out these tips on how to save money on travel.
Scope out deals
The key to an inexpensive getaway is uncovering the right offer. Use an app, browser extension or website such as Kayak to track and compare prices on flights, hotels, cruises and more. Some companies, including Groupon, find coupons to save you additional time and money.
If you plan to take a plane to your destination, flying on a weekday — especially Tuesday or Wednesday — rather than during the weekend can cut costs, according to CheapAir.com, an online travel agency. Booking well in advance will increase your chances of securing an affordable seat, but it also is possible to save on last-minute flights,.
The same goes for hotels. “Plan early and book early,” says Robbie Bhathal, the CEO of the hotel booking site Suiteness. “A limited supply will drive up prices.”
Look into larger hotels, which tend to be cheaper because they have more rooms to fill.
Check eligibility for special rates
You may be eligible for special rates based on your memberships, age or student status.
For example, AAA memberships include more than roadside assistance. The company says members can save an average of $86 a year on things such as airfare, dining, rental cars, hotels, theme parks, Amtrak tickets and travel packages. AAA also provides access to travel consultants and discount passport photos at select branches.
AARP memberships come with similar benefits. The group says members can stack exclusive savings on top of Expedia prices by booking trips through the AARP Travel Center, which uses Expedia for flights.
United and Southwest airlines offer discount fares to the 65-and-older crowd, no membership required. Greyhound offers cheaper travel for seniors and students — passengers 62 and older get 5% off bus travel with a photo ID, and students get 10% off with a Student Advantage Discount Card.
Use rewards points
If you use a travel credit card, you likely earn points that can be redeemed for hotel stays or airline flights. Check if you have accumulated enough points to cover or partially pay for transportation or lodging.
If your card doesn’t offer travel rewards, it might still offer money-saving perks such as cash back on shopping, gas or dining that you can earn on your vacation purchases. Capitalize on these benefits by matching the right card with each transaction.
Rewards aren’t exclusive to credit card holders. Cash in on any loyalty program points you may have with airlines or hotel networks. If you’re not a member, research free programs to see if they have special promotions or benefits that make signing up worthwhile.
Skip the new gear
It’s tempting to stock up on clothing and equipment for trips, but you don’t have to splurge on brand-new items, especially if you don’t plan to reuse them.
It often makes more sense to borrow from a friend or family member, buy gently used items or rent equipment. Check out a thrift store. Rent skis or camping gear from your local sporting goods store or an outdoor retailer such as REI.
There’s strength and affordability in numbers. Consider taking a road trip with friends or family and have everyone chip in for gas or share the cost of a house rental.
You might even score group discounts on things such as ski lift tickets and entry to theme parks, zoos, aquariums and museums.
You can save money while traveling by staying in someone else’s home, as long as you’re willing to return the favor.
Home-swapping services, such as HomeExchange, let you temporarily trade homes with people across the globe. Most services charge a membership fee (the annual fee for HomeExchange is $150), but it might be worth the cost if you travel a lot or plan to take a long trip.
Rent out your home
The role of host can pay off, too. Instead of opening up your home for free, rent it out through a service like Airbnb or HomeAway when you are traveling to fund your excursion or at least recoup some of the cost.
Keep your options open
Being flexible with dates and destinations means you can take advantage of the best travel deals available rather than settle for high prices. Give your wallet a break by swapping Cancun, Mexico, for a less touristy location like Denver or Chicago, Bhathal says.
He also recommends considering alternative activities to create a unique and economical experience. If you visit Las Vegas, he says, try go-karting or taking a day trip to the Grand Canyon instead of indulging in expensive shows and dinners. “Spend a little bit of time planning out your basic itinerary to reduce impulsive purchases,” he says.
Do your research, get creative and flex your frugal muscles. You’ll be on your way to enjoying some well-deserved R&R before you know it.
Updated Sept. 29, 2017.